"Wait, I need a second." Kanan paused to catch his breath. He closed his eyes and swiped a hand across his brow before even more sweat began to drip down his face.
"All right?" Hera asked, panting.
"I'm fine." He looked away from her flushed face and took a drink from the water cannister on his utility belt.
The heat on this planet was oppressive, nearly consuming. The buzzing of insects and bleats of arboreal creatures had faded into the background an hour ago, but the heat remained, a hazy awareness on the edges of his consciousness. He hadn't been on a planet this hot in a long time.
"Not far! Hurry!" Their local guide beckoned with one green speckled hand, then disappeared into the thick foliage once more.
Kanan took a deep breath of humid air and started forward again. He heard Hera's footsteps behind him, solid and steady. She wasn't struggling nearly as much as he was. Twi'leks could handle heat much better than humans — or so he kept telling himself, anyway.
Ten minutes later, his nose began to twinge: there was a strange smell in the air, metallic and dusty. A different sort of sound permeated the landscape now, one that was distinctly mechanical. Sunlight pierced the foliage ahead, as if they were approaching a clearing in the dense forest.
"Here!" The Grathonian said at last, waving two of his many hands almost frantically. "Look!"
They slowly made their way to his position and peered through the parted branches — and gasped. Before them stretched a vast expanse of wasteland, so wide that the trees on the distant edge seemed a mere green line on the horizon. There was no life left: trees had been razed, the ground burnt, and bones of a variety of animals were scattered across the charred remains of plant life. Winding across the near stretch was a small stream, though the water steamed and shimmered unnaturally. A crater could be seen in the distance, its wide yaw obscured by a rising cloud of metallic dust. The most prominent feature of the devastated landscape, though, was an enormous steel structure. Its spires belched acrid smoke while a line of droid-operated loaders piled high with rocky soil moved toward an entrance bay on the far side.
"You see?" their guide said softly. "This is what they do."
"This planet has been a nature preserve for centuries. The damage they're doing…" Hera's eyes narrowed as she scanned the scene before her. "The Imperial Senate would have had to approve this operation, but there's no record of it in the relevant subcommittees. And even if they had discussed it, there are laws prohibiting this sort of strip mining in—"
A familiar metallic sound pierced the air, and all three of them looked up. A squadron of TIE fighters streaked overhead.
"And yet, the Empire protects this operation," the Grathonian said. His nostril slits squeezed closed indignantly. "They provide 'security' while Six Star takes what it wants, using the most destructive means imaginable. It is happening all over the planet, even in our most protected and sacred places. Our pleas have been ignored, all of our transmissions to the outside blocked."
Hera shook her head in disgust and pulled the holorecorder from her utility belt. "We'll get this information to those who can disseminate it. People will see what the Empire is doing here, one way or another."
And then they'll feel badly but do nothing about it. Kanan would never voice it aloud, but it was true all the same. They'd seen it before. Grathon was a long way from the Core and its wealthy, influential citizens. Devastation and genocide on a distant planet was just something to tut over briefly before going back to arguing about local politics. It was pointless, all of this, but they would do it anyway, because the alternative was even bleaker.
And it hardly helped that this planet was so frakking hot.
Kanan winced. He wasn't usually so easily defeated by physical discomfort. He needed to focus his mind on something else.
"Shall I narrate your recording?" Their guide cleared his throat.
Hera hesitated a moment, her eyes full of concern. "Are you certain you want to risk being identified?"
The Grathonian straightened all of his limbs. "I am not afraid."
He should be.
Hera nodded and pointed the recorder towards the desolate landscape. She switched it on and panned across the scene while the Grathonian spoke in careful, measured Basic, describing the effects of the Six Star conglomerate's mining activities on the local population.
Kanan turned away to watch the area around them. There were no indications that they had been followed, nor that their arrival onworld — using an Imperial survey ship's transponder signal — had aroused any suspicion about their intentions. Given the heat, he had difficulty imagining any Imperial-friendly organics would have tracked them here. Drones or probes were more likely.
He listened, but heard only the sounds of the dense forest: the background buzz of a billion insects, punctuated by an occasional shriek from high in the trees. He looked up to see dark shapes leaping in the canopy above — narnets, most likely, one of the small furry species visitors to this planet loved to trek through the forest in search of.
He took a slow breath and exhaled again. The thick air felt like a blanket around him, curling into his lungs and clinging moistly to his skin. His clothing was no help, trapping the heat his body so desperately needed to release.
Well — there was a solution to that. He glanced around once more before holstering his blaster, then stripped off his body armor and tucked it into the backpack he'd been carrying. That helped, but now he was even more aware of his sweat-soaked clothing. He tugged his overshirt off and wrung it out, cringing at the amount of sweat it had been holding. That was definitely getting cleaned before it went back on. And the undershirt too, for that matter. He tucked both into the bag alongside the armor. Oh yes — much better. If only there were a slight breeze, the heat might border on tolerable.
"We pray that our pleas will be heard by the good and decent citizens of the Empire," the Grathonian finished.
"We still need more evidence," Hera said, tucking the holorecorder away again. "I'm going around to the other side to get a better view of the mine pit."
Kanan groaned. "I knew you were going to say that."
Hera turned to glare at him, but any biting remark she'd been planning to make died on her lips. She stared at Kanan with wide eyes, clearly caught off-guard by the sight of him naked from the waist up.
"What?" He was unable to stop himself from smirking.
Her gaze roamed appreciatively for a second more, then she seemed to force herself to look away. "Let's hope nothing poisonous bites you."
"It'd still be better than heat stroke."
She rolled her eyes.
"It is dangerous," their guide said, apparently oblivious to the tension between them. "If you are seen, they won't hesitate to use their weapons. There have been attacks on the facility by some of my people, and each has met with a terrible end." His inner eyelids closed and opened again, his expression solemn.
"We understand," Kanan told him, and handed him a commlink. "Stay here and keep watch. Signal us if you see anything." He nodded curtly to Hera, whose headtails were twitching anxiously.
"We won't be long." She cast one more glance at Kanan before starting forward, picking her way through the brush. The undergrowth was thicker here, slowing their progress considerably.
The air felt even heavier in the dense greenery. Leaves stuck wetly to his bare skin as he wove his way through, some with jagged edges that scratched him as he passed. Bright red gnats buzzed annoyingly around his head, distracting him to the point that he walked right through the web of an arachnid. He wiped his face off furiously, swearing under his breath. Perhaps taking off his shirt hadn't been a good idea after all.
He took a deep breath of liquid air and bit back his irritation as best he could. "How much further?"
"Just over there," Hera said. Her voice was unusually strained.
Kanan frowned. "Are you all right?"
"Not even close."
"Then there's something we agree on." There was a smile in her tone, but Kanan found he couldn't share it.
If he didn't pull himself together soon, he'd compromise the mission. He centered himself, cleared his mind. His body was overheated and uncomfortable, yes, but his mind could transcend mere physical discomfort. He just had to focus, to—
Hera stopped in front of him, and he walked right into her, nearly knocking her over.
She peered through the branches out to the open mine pit. "I think we'll have a better view if we go over to that side."
"It's a frakking hole in the ground," Kanan retorted, finally unable to contain his frustration. "How much better is it going to look?"
Hera turned to glare at him. "You're not the only one struggling here, you know. The Grathonians—"
"Spare me the lecture, all right? Let's just get the evidence so we can get the hell out of here and do something with it."
They stared at each other for a long moment. Hera's expression was one of annoyance. No sympathy or concern, just frustrated bewilderment that he was acting like such a child.
And he was, wasn't he? He was usually better than this, stronger than this.
He looked away, wiped yet more sweat from his face. It had been this way for weeks, ever since she'd so flatly rejected him. He'd known better than to get his hopes up, but there had been so many signs, so many moments when he'd looked into her eyes and seen real longing. But then she'd gone and closed that door for good. He'd thought he could push his feelings aside and focus on the work, but on days like this one, it seemed almost impossible.
He sighed. "Look, I'm sorry. It's just so damn hot, and—"
The was movement in front of him, and he looked up to see her unfastening the front of her flight suit. She pushed it down to bunch at her hips, and then did the same with her undershirt. All that remained was a strip of nearly-sheer fabric criss-crossing her chest. She leaned her head back to take a deep breath and her chest rose, stretching the fabric so tightly across her breasts that it might as well not have been there at all.
"Oh, that is better. I should have done it sooner."
It was a moment before Kanan remembered to breathe. Her skin was smooth and dry, and just as flushed as her face. And frak it all, her breasts were perfect.
She opened her eyes and looked at him, and the slightest hint of a smile traced her lips. "What?"
His pants were distinctly tighter than they'd been before. "Nothing. Just glad you're… better. Now. Without…" He made a vague gesture.
She looked as if she were biting back a laugh. "The sooner we get there, the sooner we can get out of here. Come on." She started forward, picking her way through the undergrowth. The curve of her waist disappeared into the fold of the flight suit over her hips, and Kanan's gaze was momentarily fixed on the way the small of her back swayed as she moved. It made him think of other ways she might move.
No, stop. He couldn't do this to himself, not now. Besides, he'd stripped first, hadn't he? He could hardly blame her for wanting to do the same.
The undergrowth cleared as they neared the edge of the forest by the mine pit, providing them less and less cover. They crouched behind a fallen tree that was as close as they dared go and peered carefully over the top. Mining droids worked steadily, pushing hovercarts loaded with a shimmering purple ore up a switchback path on the far side of the pit.
"Karbinium," Kanan whispered. "Valuable stuff."
"And important for the production of certain types of disruption weapons." Hera balanced the holorecorder on the top of the log and switched it on.
There was a loud whirring sound overhead, and Kanan acted without thinking. He dropped to the ground on his back, pulling Hera down on top of him, and pointed his blaster up at the sky.
"What—" she hissed, but he put a finger to her lips.
Sentry droid, he mouthed.
She nodded, her eyes darting up to scan the sky. The droid moved on, making its way around the forest perimeter. It hadn't seen them — or at least, it hadn't behaved as if it had.
Hera sat up a bit higher, wriggling as she did, and it was only then that Kanan realized what he'd done. She was sitting astride his hips, her weight resting firmly against his newly-intrigued erection.
He winced and closed his eyes. Hutts. Naked hutts. Greasy, naked hutts.
She braced one hand on his chest and peeked up over the log again, then ducked back down quickly. "It's gone, but we should stay out of sight. There may be more of them."
Kanan took deep, steadying breaths, and tried to keep his mind clear. It was a bit difficult to think about anything other than the weight of her body pressing him into the ground, the curve of her breast just centimeters from his lips, her bare hand pressed against his damp skin. She was breathing harder now too. He could almost hear her heartbeat — or maybe it was that he could feel it, mingling with his own.
One of her fingers moved over his sweaty skin, almost exploratory in its touch. It glided across his nipple, which hardened immediately. Kanan gasped before he could stop himself, and Hera stilled against him.
"Sorry, sorry," she whispered, shifting her weight as if to move away. Unfortunately, the movement caused her to slide against his groin in a way that made his eyes fly open. She froze in place, eyes closed, and exhaled shakily.
"Hera—" Kanan began, and she moved, gingerly pushing herself up and off. She settled on her knees on the ground beside him, her expression strangely blank. Kanan's hand flew down to cover his erection, but it was impossible she could have missed it. He kept his eyes squeezed tightly shut.
He'd never been more tempted to reach out to the Force for strength than he was right now.
She rose up high enough to switch off the holorecorder. "I think we got what we need. Let's fall back." She crouched on her toes and carefully made her way back towards the denser undergrowth.
Kanan pushed himself to sitting, then reached behind him to brush dirt from his back. He took a deep breath and released it, and tried to focus on anything other than the humiliating reality of having just rutted against a woman who'd made it clear she wasn't interested in him. He took several deep, steadying breaths to calm himself down.
He leapt to his feet, thought there was no urgency in her tone. He looked back at the mine, at the sentry droid now on the far side of the excavation area. The reality of the situation swept over him again, abating his arousal.
They barely looked at each other during the long hike back to their guide's village, nor after they'd said their goodbyes and politely refused a meal, explaining the urgency of passing the information on. After a silent two-hour ride on rented speederbikes and an awkward walk to the spaceport, they finally made their escape into the black coldness of space again, relieved to have left the heat of Grathon far behind.
Kanan stripped off the rest of his clothes and dropped the smelly lot into the ship's cleaning unit. Hera had gone to transmit the data they'd recorded to the elusive Fulcrum, so he had a bit of time to himself. He closed the door of his small room and stretched out on his bunk, eyes closed.
He cleared his mind and slowed his breathing, and then let his brain drift toward sleep. Images kept surfacing, though: Hera half-naked in the forest, Hera's hips swaying as she walked, Hera's fingers tracing the circumference of his nipple before pinching it between her fingers. Hera astride him, nothing between them now, her body slick with his sweat, rising and falling on his cock, gasping as she worked her fingers between her thighs and—
Her voice outside the door wrenched him awake again. He blinked, disoriented, the fingers of one hand sliding around the shaft of his penis automatically. So close.
"Sorry if I woke you. We've got orders."
He exhaled, closed his eyes again. "Where to?"
"Lowan Three. More information once we get there."
That was a fairly short hyperspace jump away. "I'll get cleaned up."
"You've got time. We're not meeting them until 1900."
"Right." He settled back down again. Just long, slow strokes now, enough to keep him right there until she left.
He felt a small jolt at the way her voice sounded, as if she was pressing herself close against the door, listening to the soft sound of his hand sliding on his own skin. Had she heard him before he awoke? His face heated at the thought.
"Yeah?" He knew his voice was low and hoarse, but at the moment he didn't care.
She was quiet for several seconds. "Get some sleep. That's an order."
"I was planning on it."
He didn't wait for the sound of her retreating footsteps; he rolled onto his belly and pumped into his fist, pressing his face against the mattress. If she wanted to listen to the sound of his breathing, to the small grunts deep in his throat as he got closer to the edge, fine. He didn't care.
The Hera in his mind was beneath him now, urging him on, her fingers tightly gripping his ass as she tried to pull him harder against her. She pushed up to meet him, taking him in deep, and pressed her open mouth against his.
Yes-yes-yes, and then one more thrust, spilling hot into his own hand. He panted, relaxing his body into the mattress.
It wasn't enough, but it was all he was going to get. He wiped his sticky hand on a towel he kept under his bunk, then rolled onto his back and let himself drift to sleep.